Showing posts with label contemporary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label contemporary. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Love Muffin And Chai Latte by Anya Wylde


Rating: WARTY!

Tabitha Lee Timmons is a thirty-something American living in England. Why she is there is never explained. I guess it's just to appeal to American audiences. For the last year, Tabby has had a loose relationship with a guy named Chris, but that's not his real name since he's Indian. He just uses that name because us idiot westerners can't handle Indian names. His real name is Chandramohan Mansukhani which isn't that hard of a name to grasp, and neither is his family pet name, Chintu.

At the start of the story, "Chris" proposes to Tabby, and she promptly swallows the engagement ring which he had stupidly hidden in the muffin her gave her. 'Love Muffin' is her nickname for him. Fortunately it isn't used often. Chai latte is her favorite drink. I really enjoyed the first third of this book, but then it started to go downhill for me, big time. This was curiously right at the point where I thought it would take off, because this was when she went on a trip to India which was one of the main reasons I picked up this novel.

I never had understood why Tabby was with Chris in the first place, because far more often than not, he acts like a major dick and a jerk, treating his fiancée like she's an annoying a piece of furniture he's forced to live with, yet this seems to impinge upon her consciousness not a whit, let alone make a negative impression on her, or issue a warning that she's with the wrong guy. The two do not live together and have apparently never had sex. He's painfully self-centered and she's tragically ignorant of this fact. His response to her question, "Do you love me" is along the lines of "I guess." That ought to tell her right there, but she's too dumb to see it.

Normally I would be out of there at the first sign of that in a novel. I don't like stories about idiot women - unless there's some sign down the highway that we're just a few miles (or in this case, kilometers) from wise-up-ville. What kept my interest was the quirky humor which ran through the story and which was, I admit, silly in places, but it amused me.

I very much enjoyed that, but it became harder to use that as an excuse to continue reading, when Dev showed up. Dev is right out of trope casting: a muscular hunk of a guy, good looking, mysterious, a bad boy. The problem is that he's also a dick and a jerk, yet Tabby gets the hots for him like she's a fifteen-year-old watching a music video. It's pathetic. I lost all respect for, and interest in, Tabby at this point, and I quit reading this novel about forty percent in.

I have no time for love triangles because they always make the one in the middle - in this case Tabby - look like a dithering idiot. Either commit or get out of the bedroom! I also dislike the idea of this trope hunk. Maybe there is a portion of the female gender who respond to this. I know it's a biological urge and there is obviously a market for it with these novels, but my feminine side doesn't reach that far and frankly, I much prefer the road less traveled, especially in a story like this.

I respect women who are smart enough to know the difference between an idle feeling of lust, and a real attraction on a level deeper than skin goes. That doesn't mean you can't have both, but if you're going to do that, then you'd better give me a real reason as to why this relationship actually is both, and it had better not be you just telling me it's an enduring love while all you're showing me is nothing but the shallowest and most juvenile of lusts.

While there are welcome exceptions (I've read one or two), this kind of romance is all too often that shallow and I have no time for it. It doesn't help to lard up Dev with good deeds which are told rather than shown to Tabby, and this had especially better not be when the author has already portrayed him as a complete jerk in his previous interactions with her.

I cannot recommend this one at all.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Dreadnought by April Daniels


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"With Dreadnought's dead" Makes no sense. 'With Dreadnought's death', or 'With Dreadnought being dead' makes more sense.
Camouflage misspelled at start of chapter 14
Bicep on p115 needs to be biceps!
I wouldn't keep let mom bribe me p115 makes no sense. 'I wouldn't keep letting mom bribe me', maybe?

I'm not a fan of series in general because they tend to be bloated, repetitive, and derivative. I like my novels fresh, not warmed over from the previous volume in the series! Once in a while though, a series comes along that's worth reading, and though it's premature to say so after only one volume, this series, Nemesis, of which Dreadnought is volume one, might be one I can finally stomach! Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the author and the publisher.

Let me address some issues I had with it first. The story was in first person. I have no idea why authors are so addicted to this, but usually it sounds awful, self-obsessed, and totally unrealistic. Once in a while an author can carry it off, and in this case it wasn't bad until it got to about 80% of the way through when the big action finale began, and then it really showed what a poor choice this voice was. No one narrates like that when experiencing horrors or trying to figure out how to set wrongs right in emergency situations.

Yes, I would agree that the actions and thoughts of Dreadnought in some ways showed how new she was to this job, but in other ways it was steadfastly undermined that by how analytical and detailed she was in relating what was happening. Even accounting for the inexperience, for me it was almost completely lacking in credibility. It wasn't god-awfully bad, but the scenes needed to be tightened considerably. There was way too much fluff and filler, and with the first person voice it simply didn't feel realistic. Overall, the finale was not bad in terms of being a finale. It was just poorly executed, I thought.

It may seem strange to make this point with someone like Trump in office, but the extremes depicted in the novel, in terms of how people despised Danny, the mtf transgender girl who became the super hero Dreadnought, were too polarized. It’s like there was no one on the fence - they were either totally supportive or psychotically antagonistic and to me, this lacked credibility. I know there are many people hostile to the LGBTQIA community, and for the next four years, we're going to see them crawling out of the woodwork, emerging from the shadows, and slithering out from under rocks, I'm sorry to say, because they've been invited to do so by one of the most bigoted and insensitive public figures I've ever seen, and unfortunately, because of the complacency of registered voters, he's now in a position of way too much power for four years.

As far as this story is concerned, more nuance would have served it better. Danny's high-school friend, her dad, and the Graywych character at the super hero building came off more like caricatures than actual people, and this robbed them of their power, although Graywych's perspective was an interesting one, I grant. Instead of being threatening though, they were more like "representative' cardboard cut-outs, or placeholder set up to mark a particular perspective without making the perspective feel real.

That said, I really liked this story overall, and I loved how it brought the character into being with a history and a legacy already in place because of the way the mantle is passed on from one Dreadnought to another. Like Danny needed any more pressure! Danny is a girl, Danielle, as she'd like to be, born in a boy's body, Daniel as he was known.

She has felt trapped for seven or eight years, and is desperately counting the days until she's eighteen, and can get a job to save up for the surgery which will make her outward appearance match her inner self, or at least as close as modern medical science can render it. She did not ask for super powers, but once she gets them, and realizes that part of this transference grants some wishes to the recipient we quickly discover (like it was any surprise!) what her dearest wish was, and this is what she got.

Some reviewers, I've noticed have had issues with how 'beautiful' and 'curvaceous' she became, and I’d have an issue with it if that was all she became, but there was more to it and it’s wrong to focus on one aspect to the exclusion of others which turn out to be more important.

That said I would have preferred it if it had been toned-down, or if it was only Danny who considered she was 'beautiful'. This is for two reasons: one, because I'm tired of female super hero tropes where they're essentially nothing more than pneumatic Barbie doll clichés instead of real people, on the outside, and guys on the inside. Two: I think it would have made for a more powerful story and a more compelling character had Danny been just 'ordinary' looking, but was so thrilled to finally 'be a real girl' that she felt beautiful. But that's just me!

One problem here is that she wasn't really a girl, though, not biologically speaking. This part made little sense to me. She got the proportions and outward appearance of a girl, including a 'healthy cleavage,' but inside she was still XY, with no womb. There was no overt discussion of what her genitalia looked like exactly, just the hint that it was entirely female, so what I didn't get was why? Why did she have this limitation? If the mantle could confer femininity on her, why could it not go all the way?

I didn't buy the flim-flam we were given that it was too much for the mantle to confer. Men are really just mutant versions of women when you get right down to it, and there are direct parallels between a male and a female body. What's referred to as a penis in a male is nothing more than a distended clitoris. Men have an X chromosome, so if the changes somehow called for a man to be raised to the power of X to put him on par with a woman, then why couldn't the mantle achieve this? What couldn't the Prostatic utricle become a uterus? Was it because the man-tle was designed by a man?! You could argue that you would lose your transgender character if this had happened but I would disagree with you!

I like the way Danny came into her powers, and I speak not of the initial transference here, but her growth into them over the story, her reluctance to blindly throw in her lot with the Legion, and her willingness to learn everything the mantle could show her, and put it to good use. The other side of this coin is that it made little sense that she didn't stand up to her father earlier, but when you're beaten down so hard for so long, it's very hard to get back to your feet with any strength of conviction, so I was willing to let that go. I felt bad though when Danny's first thought on waking after Calamity's injury was not that of going to see how she was, but a lot of selfish thoughts about how much she was having to put up with herself. That felt like a real betrayal

I adored Calamity. This seems to be my lot on life whether I like the main character (as I did here) or not: I like the 'side-kick' more, although Calamity never was a sidekick, and even had the balls to call Dreadnought her sidekick at one point, which was both beautiful and funny. So enough rambling. Overall I really did like the story despite some issues. It's the first I've read of a series in a long, long time that has really stirred my interest and made me seriously want to come back for more. That's about the biggest compliment I can give it, and from me, it's a heck of a lot!


Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Last Dance by Salvatore Albert Lombino aka Ed McBain


Rating: WARTY!

Salvatore Albert Lombino legally became Evan Hunter in 1952, but wrote most of his novels as Ed McBain. He wrote under several other names, too, such as John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, and Richard Marsten. The only name related to him that he never wrote under was his original name! The Last Dance was written in 2000, just five years before McBain died, and was part of his 87th Precinct series.

I'm not a series fan, but out of curiosity, I'd picked up a book of his that the library was selling off, and which contained three stories. I hadn't yet got to it when I saw this one on the shelf and decided to give myself a sneak preview. If I liked it, all well and good, but if I didn't, I'd save myself the trouble of getting into the print book, and I could take it off my overburdened shelf!

Because of an unwisely situated library bar code sticker on the case, what I didn't realize until about half-way through the audiobook was that it's actually read by McBain himself. For me, this made it more interesting, because he has an odd way of reading. He reads it like it's a list or something, not like it's a novel, and I wonder how much of what I hear from him informs as to how he wrote his books.

He puts inflection into the speech he reads, but sometimes he carries the same inflection over to the text outside the quotes, like it's inflected the same way the speech was! It sounds a bit weird. His voice sounds very New York and eh has no idea how a Cockney sounds. McBain grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx from what I've read about him. He doesn't do too bad of a job - just an odd job. I'm a big proponent of authors reading their own novels for the audiobook version, assuming they're not awful at it, so I'm not going to complain about this! Except for one thing: like too many Americans, McBain conflates Cockney with Londoner. The two are not synonymous.

The oddest thing about this novel for me though, was that these detectives, who are the main characters, had been in two gunfights by the halfway stage, yet in neither fight did any cop fire even one round. I find that completely incredible. I know this is fiction, and I know that novels (and TV shows and movies) often have too much gun-play, but to have a detective meet an informant in a public place, and have two assassins come in to the restaurant and gun-down the informant, and the detective who's with him not return a single shot and worse, to not follow the guys out into the street when they left so he could maybe get a license plate from their getaway car or something, was ridiculous.

In the second gunfight, there was about a half-dozen cops going to bring in this assassin. They were armed and wearing vests, and expecting trouble, but they had to go through this single door into an apartment. The guy inside had to get from his bed to a drawer, pull out the gun and start shooting, and he did this without any cop shooting back at him. The assassin, so-called, hit only one cop, and that was in the leg. He shot all his rounds, then dropped the gun and surrendered! No cop fired back. I'm sorry, but it's simply not credible. Even in real life, and in both of those situations, the cops would have been firing back. I don't get it at all.

That said, the story overall wasn't too bad to begin with, just a bit annoying and odd. It even had some humor here and there, but by about halfway through it, I was beginning to tire of both the reader and the story, and towards the end I was skipping tracks just to get it over with. it was a short book, but too long for my patience, so I can't recommend this at all. As far as the print book is concerned, I'll give that a try to see if it sounds better when I'm reading than it does when I'm simply listening, but I hold out less hope for it now than I did before I listened to this book!


Monday, January 16, 2017

Flashover by Annie Bellet


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another short story by Annie Bellet set in one of her many worlds. I liked the first two I read, so I decided to see what else she has out there, and she has several short stories tied to one or other of the worlds she's created, each one serving as a peek inside, each free as of this writing.

As I mentioned in other reviews, I think this is a good idea. It lets you get your feet wet without being soaked with price tags for books you don't like! Karin Slaughter could take a leaf out of Annie Bellet's book! I liked the previous two I read and this one, a fantasy, began in a likable manner, too, despite being first person - a voice I really don't enjoy, particularly in YA fiction. This isn’t YA, though and the voice fortunately wasn't nauseating.

This world is that of Remy Pigeon, who is a psychometrist. One morning he's visited by a fire elemental which has taken over a young woman's body for the purpose of attracting his attention. It works. I have to say at this point that I didn't like Remy. I think this first person approach taken here is to set-up the story like the old-style private dick novels where the PI tells the story in a male chauvinistic and hard-bitten style. For me that doesn’t work because I've never been attracted to that style of story-telling. It makes me laugh at how pretentious and self-important it is, which tends to spoil the drama of the story!

So the fire elemental's problem is that someone is making it burn down buildings. I've never bought into this idea that names hold power and if someone knows your true name the have power over you! It's nonsensical, but this is the trope employed here: someone knows the elemental's true name and can therefore control it, and are making it do their dirty work. The elemental resents this, naturally. It's up to Remy to use his power of touch to see if he can find out what these fire victims have in common and who the elemental's name has been told to. Only one of the victims actually knew the name, and she's dead, so Remy can’t just ask her. Thus we have a PI story featuring a psychometrist who does no psychometry, and a serial arsonist who sets no fires!

There was one minor writing issue other than first person (which for me is frankly a major writing issue), and that's when the Remy tells us about his drive across town: "I nursed a complaining Renault, my beater Toyota, across town..." It looks like the author had one vehicle in mind and then changed it, without deleting the old reference! No biggie. We've all made goof-ups like that one! I don’t care about screw-ups like this quite frankly (it's a Renault BTW), if the author is telling me a decent story (or even an indecent one). I do care if the story is larded with them, but I readily forgive minor gaffs for a good story. Yes, my name is Ian and I'm a book slut! Welcome Ian!

The story felt like ti was a bit too short and too easy, but other than that, I liked the story for what it was. It's not something which would lure me in, because I'm not typically a series fan and I didn't like Remy who seems a bit obnoxious when it comes to women (no wonder he gets no dates!) and a bit ineffectual in what he does, but the story itself was a worthy read.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Snatched by Karin Slaughter


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a very short audiobook I picked up on spec from the library and it turned out, aside from a couple of dumb bits, to be not too bad of a story despite it being volume 5.5 in the Will Trent series. This is the second of this author's books I've reviewed. I did not at all like Undone which I read back in November of 2013, but this was a different story. Literally!

I am not a series fan so I won't be following this character or this series, but notwithstanding some negative comments from Georgia readers as to Karin Slaughter's lack of a decent grasp of law enforcement procedures in that state, this little interlude didn't sound bad to my ears, especially since reader Kathleen Early did a good job. My ears, FYI, demand only a decent story without too much of Le Stupide. I'm not a stickler for Tom Clancy-style authenticity in a novel. For me that spoils a story by bogging it down. I don't like it to be a dumb story, but I really don't care if some corners are cut (or missed altogether!) if the story is worth reading overall.

Will is apparently in his boss's bad graces and is consigned to toilet duty at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International airport. Why his police department is doing this rather than airport security, or as we're reminded and which is actually a plot point, one of the other law enforcement agencies which cover this airport, is unexplained. Why he has to sit there inside one of the stalls for eight hours rather than simply sit comfortably outside and observe who goes in, entering only if it looks like some guys actually are going to be indulging in lewd behavior is a mystery, too.

But the point is that he gets a hunch about a guy who is literally hauling a young girl through the airport and which pair momentarily stop in the toilet. Will goes after them and pretty soon it becomes obvious that his hunch was right and that this is an abduction, but Will loses track of the pair and when he reacquires them, the girl is gone. He brings the guy in for questioning.

This brings me to three problems I had with this story. Will is supposed to be a seasoned police officer, yet he three major screw-ups. The first is that he wasted his phone battery charge playing games in the loo so now he can't use it to call his partner. The second is that he has no radio he could use, which made no sense to me, and the third is that when he chases the guy in the airport parking garage, he never once identifies himself as a police officer.

All of those things would have been fine if we'd been given some half-way decent reason for why things were that way, like maybe that he'd forgotten to charge his phone the night before and the charger in his car was missing or broken, that there had been no spare radios at the precinct to bring on the job with him that morning, and that he had called out who he was but some truck horn had drowned out his voice or something! It's easy to do, and to fail to do these things as a writer, makes your character look dumb or you look like a poor writer.

The failure to identify himself never was a plot issue so he could well have called out who he was, so forgetting to write that he had identified himself made no sense, but the lack of a communication device was not well done. Nor was it explained why Will's poor partner was condemned to airport duty with him, either! But those issues aside, I did like the story and I thought it was a worthy read.

I do not think that it's worth twenty dollars for the audiobook! This is the only format it seems to be available in (her links on her website do not work(!) and I was unable to find an ebook version on B&N. Karin Slaughter is an internationally best selling author who actually makes a living from her writing. Surely she could give this one away as a freebie? I don't get the mentality of some authors, but that said, she does support libraries, so she's not completely evil!


Critical Mass by Steve Martini


Rating: WARTY!

This is my first and probably my last Steve Martini novel. Am I sure it wasn't Steve Martin and not Martini? No! This was a plodding, predictable, obvious novel with no thrills at all, which is hardly surprising given his background as first a journalist, then a layer. What was I thinking?! I read only a third of this four-hundred-some page novel because I couldn't stand to read any more when I have other books literally weighing down my shelves. Life is far too short!

The only conceivable reason to include a lawyer in this novel is Martini's history. She had no other purpose. In fact none of the chapters in which she was featured made a lick of sense. On top of this was the obvious: it was painfully obvious who was behind the theft of the nuclear weapons before the plodding Gideon figured it out. It was glaringly obvious that 'Belden' never died in the airplane explosion. Pathetic.

The story is about the theft of two nuclear missiles from Russia. We know from the off that they will be discovered and disarmed at the last minute, and that since we have "weak, gullible" female character Joselyn the Lawyer and love interest for Gideon, she will be imperiled before the story ends (probably by Belden), so there were no thrills here, and I have considerably better reads to do with my time.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in a rather less than ideal near future, this middle-grade to young adult work of fiction depicts the arrival of 'neuro' headsets which link a person's brain directly into the Internet purportedly enhancing usability and virtual reality significantly. Neuros are new, but catching on fast. The question is, how safe are they? This story reminded me a little bit of other books on this kind of topic, such as The Adolescence of P-1 by Thomas J Ryan, and also a little bit of This Perfect Day by Ira Levin.

Our main character, Sam Wilson, is of course a hacker who, like Dade Murphy in the movie Hackers, got into trouble for hacking computer systems. Unlike Zero Cool though, Sam actually gets hired by the government to work for them on cyber security. I like the way the author has Sam lured in via a trick so the government powers which are interested in him can be sure he really does have the right skills for the job. He finds himself working for an elite group of hackers who are the first line of defense when it comes to cyber security in the US.

Things take a turn for the disastrous when hackers start trying to probe nuclear power stations, and then the security team itself is attacked in a way somewhat reminiscent of the movie Surrogates which itself was taken from the comic books series, The Surrogates. Soon it becomes clear that something powerful and very nearly omniscient (rather like the computer in the movie Eagle Eye!) can track what they're doing and zero in on them almost before they know what they're doing themselves. Is this an elite group of hackers? Is it some super computer? What's behind it? I thought that what was behind it was inventive if a bit improbable and I really enjoyed the way this story panned out. I recommend it.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Midnight Clear by Mary Kay Andrews


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd realized that this was part of a series I would have left it on the library shelf. I don't do series, because ninety times out of ten (or worse!) they're boring and derivative, and repetitive and formulaic, but there's nothing on the cover to indicate that this is 'Callahan Garrity Mystery volume 7', at all! This is what happens when you put your cover design into someone else's hands: it gets away from you! The cover is dishonest in another way, too: Mary Kay Andrews lied about her name! The novel was initially published under the weird name of Kathy Hogan Trocheck (or is that Paycheck?). It's even copyrighted under that name which is even more weird. But whatever. I don't care who writes it, I just care whether it entertains, and this was a huge fail in that regard.

The story is set around the Christmas holiday, but it's not really a Christmas story; it's just a murder which happens in that season, in which "Callahan Garrity and the outrageous band of 'girls' in her Atlanta cleaning crew join together during the Christmas rush to prove that her trailer-trash brother didn't kill his even trashier estranged wife." I'm not sure why I thought this might make for a worthy read, but it wasn't. Usually in these stories the first thing to crop-up is the murder - otherwise what's the point?! Sometimes there's some preamble, but even so, the dastardly deed is right up front. In this case, the story was one third over before anyone got killed, and that third wasn't even preamble!

You've no doubt seen one of those sped-up decay videos, where an orange or something grows moldy at super-speed? Well that would have been more entertaining than this was, even were it shown at regular speed. This was tedious to the nth degree. It rambled on and on about the most mundane of activities, going into excessive detail about everyday events in the life of this family, which had zero bearing on the story and worse, and far from what the blurb claimed, it was not heartwarming, nor was it suspenseful, and it sure as hell wasn't hilarious.

If this story had been submitted by a first time writer, I doubt it would ever have found a publisher. All this proves is that you can get away with a badly-written novel if you have your foot in the door already. I don't mind reading about so-called 'trailer park trash' if it's entertaining and has something to say, but I won't abide a trashy novel that goes nowhere, and takes its sweet time doing it. I can't recommend this one at all. I DNF'd it. I also think I'm done with this author.


Between Lovers by Eric Jerome Dickey


Rating: WARTY!

This is an audiobook read decently by Dion Graham, although the material is marginally indecent! When I first began listening to it, I started thinking I wasn't going to like it, especially since it's in first person, which I really do not care for. I had a feeling I knew how this would pan out, but I hoped the author would prove atypical, and surprise me. He didn't.

It also began by being a little too focused on sex and body parts for my taste, but as I listened on, I began to get into it a little bit, so I decided to let it play for a while and see how it went. It went downhill. I started skimming and skipping and by half-way through, I realized this was not for me. The focus seemed to be solely on sex and bodies, and I have to wonder why. Is there nothing else in this guy's life? Apparently there wasn't, and that felt false to me.

One of the main reasons I picked this up from the library was that one of the main characters - the narrator - was a writer, yet his character doesn't read like he's a writer at all, and his internal monologue didn't vibe like he was a writer, either. He came across as any regular guy instead. His job could literally have been anything, so why make him a writer except as a thoroughly dishonest attempt to lure readers like me in?

It may sound paradoxical to say this, but there is no writing element to this novel - not in the first fifty percent at any rate. His focus isn't on his next novel, which is where his primary should be, if he really is a writer. He should be thinking about it - from time to time at least - even if he isn't writing, yet his entire focus is on his sex life, on his girlfriend's body, and on "checking out sistas." I refuse to believe that this is all that African Americans think about, but according to this writer, it is! I found that to be so sad and blinkered, and rather racist, if that's the implication. He mentions Nicole's intelligence once, but that's seriously diluted by the observations he makes about her body in the same thought.

The other element which interested me, and I confess it's one that usually turns me off a novel, is the love triangle angle! The main character (whose name I don't think appears in this novel, or if it does, I missed it) is involved with Nicole, but when he thought they were ready to head to the altar, she left. Now she's back in his life, but she comes with a girlfriend. She wants both her girlfriend and her boyfriend in her life, and she wants he and she to get along. They refuse to until a predictable tragedy forces them.

Given how obsessed the narrator was with sex, you would think he would jump at this idea of two women, but he doesn't! This made no sense in the context we'd been offered here: far from being enthusiastic about the potential to have two women in his life, he's completely negative about it, seeing Ayyana in the same light as he would have viewed a male rival. This sounded false to me given what we'd been told about the narrator. But it's first person, so maybe he's lying to us all this time? I don't know. I'm even less of a fan of dishonest narrators than I am of first person stories.

The novel is set in and around Oakland and San Francisco, the latter being a place I had the pleasure of visiting some months ago, and really liked, so for me that was the best part about it, but the locale was only a backdrop, not part of the story. The story could have taken place anywhere so why San Francisco? I don't know!

Like the narrator's occupation, the locale impinged little on the story, which was solely about this guy's anguish over his girlfriend. In the end I started really disliking the guy and becoming bored with his obsession. He literally had no other thoughts than Nicole and her girlfriend, and it was tedious to keep going back over the same ground. Even as he's griping endlessly about her girlfriend, he's checking out every girl who passes across his visual field, so he's both hypocritical and lacking in integrity.

In the end I wanted to get in his face and tell him to either accept her heat for what it was, or get out of the bitchin'! He either has to allow that she's making up her own mind about her life and he wants to be in it, or he wants to be out of it, and let this thing go. It was tiresome to be forced to watch him wallow in his own self-importance and self-pity. Maybe a third person narration would have made this more palatable, but I doubt it would have made sufficient difference to keep me on-board. As it is, I can't recommend this one at all.


Friday, December 9, 2016

The Accidental Demonslayer by Angie Fox


Rating: WARTY!

I liked the oddity of this story and the title, but when I began reading it, I ran into some issues. The first is that it's your usual cliché of the ignorant special snowflake coming into their power and knowledge of who they are. The main difference here is that the demon-slayer here isn't your usual wilting, vapory YA girl. Lizzie Brown is an older woman who teaches kindergarten. We still get the story in first person though, which can be annoying, but in this case, it wasn't awful. She lives alone (save for her Jack Russell Terrier dog), in a loft apartment and is an adopted child, her mother having given her up when she was a baby. So lots of trope. The differences were not only in her age, but also in that there was humor here, some of which missed the mark for me, but some of which was funny, such as when she tells her little dog "Feel free to protect me from butterflies, the vacuum cleaner, my hair dryer". I thought that was great.

On Lizzie's birthday, her grandmother shows up out of the blue riding a pink Harley Davidson motorbike, and she locks Lizzie in the bathroom. She's wanting Lizzie confined while the latter undergoes her slayer transformation. Why this happens when she turns thirty (or whatever age she is) is a mystery, and it's even more of a mystery why her grandmother locks her up and refuses to tell her anything - this again is tedious trope. What goes wrong though is that a demon shows up intent upon killing Lizzie, but it's told in more of a humorous vein than a dramatic or scary one. After this event is when Lizzie starts to get her education. She also realizes she can hear her dog - which talks like a frat boy rather than a dog might talk if it could - and which became annoying quite quickly, the occasional humorous comment notwithstanding.

The story really started sliding towards oblivion for me though, when the clichéd muscular, protective male showed up. I'm not a woman (I've never even played one on TV, believe it or not), but if I were a woman, I think I'd be a bit pissed-off with some stranger showing up trying to lay a claim on me and arguing with my grandmother about who has dibs on me! But the problem was much worse than that. Here we have this almighty demon-slayer, who comes along only once in three generations, and who is so scary to demons that they launch an orchestrated campaign to kill her off, and yet she needs protector? This immediately devalues her and renders her as little more than a maiden tied to a stake awaiting Saint George to come along and slay the dragon before he carries her off on his pretty charger (and by that I mean horse, nothing untoward!).

It felt like a betrayal to me. It's fine by me if she has a guy who is an equal partner, and it's also fine if, assuming it's done intelligently and realistically, they fall in love by the end of the story, but to set up this woman as some exceptional demon destroyer and then slap us (and her) in the face with "well, she's really just an air-headed and weak flibbertigibbet" is inexcusable.

It was at this point that I decided this book was not for me - or for anyone else who likes a smartly-written urban fantasy and female protagonists who have a healthy self-respect and are not in dire need of some abusive male to validate them. As soon as Dimitri (seriously? You couldn't come up with a better name than a Vampire Academy retread?) started asserting ownership of Lizzie, and literally manhandling her around - like dragging her into a corner to lecture her, and insisting she leave her bedroom window open so he can "talk to her later," and actually kissing her without so much as a by-your-leave - I'm leaving! Lizzie should have kicked him in his balls right there and then. She didn't. She's having palpitations and marveling at his muscles instead. He's just man-meat and she should have been marveling at the lack of muscle in his head. If you like moronic female leads, and guys who are outright dicks, then this is definitely for you. For me, I couldn't bear to read any more of this nonsense.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher


Rating: WARTY!

This book was obnoxious, and I DNF'd it about a third of the way through it, because the main character, Logan, was totally ridiculous. If I'd known that Kirkus Reviews liked it, I would have avoided it like the plague. I don't think Kirkus ever met a book it didn't adore, so those reviews are utterly meaningless. If I'd known it had won an award, I would likewise have shunned it. Books which win medals and awards rarely meet my approval. They're far too pretentious and "literary" for my taste. This one wasn't really either, but it was still a disaster, well worthy of some literary medal or award. I'm unlikely to ever be offered one, but I promise you if I ever am, I shall flatly refuse it.

If this novel had been published thirty years ago, then some of it might have made a little sense (but still have been unforgivable), but to publish in 2009 and take the trope route main character Logan Witherspoon "just didn't know" is farcical. Any author who does this these days is clueless. The term 'gender dysphoria' was coined in the early seventies and while it took it's time entering the lexicon, other terms applicable to this situation were in wide use. Even people living in podunk towns know something of the LGBTQIA community, so Logan's extreme ignorance was a joke, and not even a funny one.

At any time there are always plenty of jerks and dicks who aren't fit to be anywhere near, let alone in the company of, the LGBTQIA community, but allowing this, Logan's complete ignorance about the topic simply wasn't believable. His 'extreme prejudice' reaction when he learned how Sage came to be the person she is was just plain stupid. It's not possible for the character we had been introduced to at the beginning of the novel to have become that extreme so precipitately by a third the way in, and even if we swallow his ejaculations for what they were, then it's simply not possible to believe that he could ever have erected himself from the sad depths in which he'd so comfortably wallowed. Logan was a dick, and that's all there is to him.

He was also a manic depressive going from high to low at a speed too fast to measure accurately with the technology we have today. Everything was extremes for him, and his behavior was entirely ridiculous and quite literally not credible. The way he behaved towards Sage was obnoxious, and his constant 'I' this and 'me' that made him seem even more self-obsessed and inflated than he would have been in third person. It was depressing to listen to his constant juvenile whining in an audiobook read by Kirby Heyborne, whose voice was way too John Green for my taste, which made the novel even worse.

Sage Hendricks wasn't much better, frankly. It's perfectly understandable that she'd be nervous at best and terrified at worst of her secret getting out, and to her credit she does try to steer Logan away from it, but at the same time, instead of adhering to their agreement to be friends, she proves something of a tease, and definitely leads him on. In some ways I can understand her behavior, but in other ways, it was inexcusable.

On the one hand, you have to allow that it's her business and no one else's, and if he truly cares for her he should accept her for whoever she is, but on the other, we don't yet live in a society where a mtf transgendered person is the equivalent of a biological female. Apart from the issue of pure acceptance (by society as well as by any given individual), there's also the issue of why people form relationships, and one reason is to have children. Clearly (until our medical profession advances dramatically), it's problematical to enter into a relationship with a guy when he doesn't have all the facts at his disposal. there are biological females who cannot have children either, so this situation is no different. If a couple are getting serious, then it's important to be completely honest with each other about what can be expected.

That said, this was another high school story and I cannot take high-school romance stories seriously for the most part. Or any YA romance for that matter. Very few of them are remotely realistic and most are so badly-written as to be a sorry joke. While there are some people in that age range who are commendably mature and who can realistically enter into a serious relationship with a reasonable expectation of it working out in the long term, most people the age of Sage are not sage and those like Logan are hollow at best and clueless at worst.

The rather tired premise for this story is really ripped off from Romeo and Juliet. Logan is pining over his lost love Rosaline, er Brenda (Brenda, really?), but then is suddenly overcome by his lust for new girls Sage. Admittedly, she plays a lot harder to get than does Juliet, whose morals I've always suspected, quite frankly. In this case, he's the Capulet and she's the mountebank. When she finally comes clean and reveals that she started out life with a Y chromosome in place of the other X, his reaction is laughable. The fact that he does take off like this, thinking the most horrid things about her, almost punching her, and using the most unforgivable names about her made me only realize that even if he were to come around later to her point of view, it would be such a pile of fiction that it wouldn't be worth the reading. That's when I gave up on this worthless piece of pretentious (I changed my mind!) trash of a book. And what's with the frigging title? Almost Perfect? Not by a long chromosome. And what's the betting that the cover model isn't remotely transgender?


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Agent Amelia by Michael Broad


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a fun middle grade novel about a very capable self-starter named Amelia who gives Sherlock Holmes a run for his money with her keen observations and her deductive and inductive logic skills. This book is one of a series, and features three stand-alone stories:

  • Hypno Hounds is a story about Amelia and her mum's trip to a vacation cottage for a week. When they arrive, the locale is like a ghost town, and Amelia immediately notices that the name of the cottage has been changed to Bevil Cottage from...Devil Cottage! It turns out that baying hounds from hell supposedly haunt the area, and these are driving out the locals. Amelia's detective senses are triggered, and she goes on the hunt for clues, determined to solve this mystery, and solve it she does.
  • A new chemistry teacher trips Amelia's alarm bells with his odd habits, so the next time he leaves the classroom in the middle of the class, she sneaks out and tails him - to the supermarket. What's he up to with buying huge amounts of breakfast cereal? Well it turns out there's a sweet explanation for it that you would never guess.
  • The last story was my favorite. I thought it was hilarious. It features Turbo Teddies, which are remote-controlled roller-skating teddy-bears. They're the new hot toy craze, but when Amelia goes shopping for one, they've very mysteriously disappeared. Or have they? Just as the alarm goes up that customers are being robbed, Amelia thinks she get a glimpse of one of those teddies here and there. Now how can she get a look at the store's security cameras to see what's going on?

The stories are quite simplistic and a little improbable, but they're fun and they entertainment me. I imagine they will do a lot more for young readers, and perhaps inspire some young girls to be more aware of their surroundings, which is never a bad thing. I recommend this one.


Trolled by DK Bussell


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
p21 "as it the job was formerly known." an 'it' too many?
p32 "bicep" should be 'biceps'
p49 "Begging your counsel, my Queen," sounded very odd. Begging your forgiveness, maybe? Begging your consent?

Note that this is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I like this publisher, and when I was asked if I would review this, I thought it was by the same author of a previous novel I'd read and liked, but this one isn't. It's apparently by a relative, and the story did not impress me for a variety of reasons. I am not a huge fan of fantasy, but this one at least sounded like it might be different, which is the reason I decided to read it. Unfortunately it wasn't different at all, and was heavily invested in your usual trope and cliché common to fantasies.

The twist here was supposed to be that modern young adults who were into Live-Action Role Playing (LARP) fantasy games passed through a magic portal into a real fantasy world, but this was not impressive, and was a fail for me. Plus it felt like the "white savior" story wherein a white person (usually a guy, but in this case a girl) offers salvation to a native population. I'm not impressed by such stories. There was one character in a wheelchair, which was commendable on the face of it, but the idea of maneuvering a wheelchair through a wild forest made the idea rather ridiculous. It would have been better had the character been on crutches or something like that.

In order to bring the fantasy, the author used the occasional odd phrase, such as: "The mighty buck's hooves pounded steady against the earth, his mane flowing like warm streaks of honey" which sounded strange, but whatever. The weirdest one was "As she watched the scorpion strafe from side-to-side her mind went back to Epping Forest." Unless the scorpion is shooting a machine gun or dropping bombs, then it's not strafing! One does not strafe from side to side!

Other parts of the story simply took me right out of suspension of disbelief, such as when I read: "He held up a fist and the signal echoed back through the ranks, bringing the remaining army of three-hundred trolls to a halt." My question here is why would trolls in a fantasy world use the same hand-gestures that modern military use (at least according to popular TV and film)? It made no sense to me, and it wasn't the only thing I had issues with. Another example was, "The scorpion returned the favour by slashing Terry across the head with his pincer, landing a cut just above his hairline." The issue here is why would the giant scorpion do that rather than simply take his head off? It's obviously because the author can't kill off this character, but it once again took me out of suspension of disbelief. There are ways to write scenes like this and give your essential character an escape from almost certain death, but it needs to be more realistic than this to work for me.

A similar case arose with the magical "home tree" - another trope, having elves live in trees. The tree was called Elderwood, and I read of it: "Elderwood had enough magic left in him to aid his allies' escape. As soon as they were at a safe distance he cast a spell through his roots that turned the soil beneath the enemy into quicksand, swallowing the trolls and dragging them into the suffocating mire." This was after the troll attack. My question here is, if Elderwood had this power, why didn't it get used as soon as the trolls attacked and have them taken out? Obviously, it was because there has to be some trope sword-fighting and blood-spilling here, but again, it jumped right out at me and interfered with my enjoyment of the story.

The idea of a strong female character always appeals to me, but to have some girl who has no interest in fantasy suddenly become the champion of the fantasy world makes no sense. No doubt at some point in this 'saga' she will turn out to have elf blood in her (how this cross-species fertilization is supposed to work is another mystery!), but even if she did, this is no guarantee she would be a great warrior!

As I indicated, this is intended to be a series, which to me is just another reason for me to avoid it! I'm not a fan of series. Although sometimes one comes along that is worthy of reading, in general, they tend to be derivative, repetitive, and uninventive. In short, they're boring and a lazy way to write. And because this is part of a series, it ended rather abruptly, the assumption being that the reader will continue on with volume two. I don't have the enthusiasm to do that, and for the reasons I've indicated, I can't recommend this as a worthy read, but I wish the author well with it. Maybe others will find it more entertaining than did I.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Vampire Academy Graphic Novel by Leigh Dragoon, Emma Viecelli


Rating: WORTHY!

For a graphic novel created by two female writers/illustrators, I found this to be rather more sexualized than it ought, particularly regarding main character Rose. Emma Viecelli's artwork aside though (and the art wasn't bad at all in general terms), the adaptation by the curiously-named Leigh Dragoon was faithful to Richelle Mead's original, and overall, the story was told well. As usual I could have done without the ridiculous and pathetic "romance" between Rose and the academy's pet gorilla, but other than that, I liked this adaptation and I recommend it for anyone who likes the original or who is interested in getting up to speed on the story without reading the original, which I reviewed back in May, 2014.

There was one bit of unintentional amusement, which is when Rose has one of her trips into Lissa's brain. The illustration clearly shows Lissa from a third party perspective, climbing up through the trapdoor into the attic where she meets Ozera, but the text confidently states: "And there I am seeing the world through Lissa's eyes." No, you don't see the world through Lissa's eyes looking directly at Lissa, unless she's in front of a mirror! Sometimes I wish writers were a little more intelligent than this - or artists, whoever is at fault here, but they're no worse than movie or TV depictions of such things which are routinely in third person perspective and which look utterly ridiculous because of it.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second of a disappointing pair of transgender books I'm reviewing today, both written by guys named Chris! This one was an audiobook, which for me is more experimental and therefore more likely to fail. This one sounded really promising, but in the end it turned out to be boring, slow-moving like you wouldn't believe, and with apparently no intention of ever going anywhere.

The attraction of this story for me was of the same variety that moved me to write Tears in Time which I published earlier this year. Is this love lost? If so, can you find it? If you find it will you recognize it? If you recognize it, what will you do about it?

Allison Banks, divorced and in her forties, finds herself attracted to Dana Stevens. The cover blurb says, "develops a crush on" like she's some teen-aged fluff-head, but I don't blame the author for the sheer incompetence and rank stupidity of book blurb writers! Not unless they self-publish! What Allison doesn't know, and doesn't learn right away is that Dana is a transgender male to female, about to start on that painful and lengthy journey. She's attracted to Allison, too, but she can't stay male. When she transitions, what is going to happen to their relationship? I thought this was a choice topic for a novel, but the execution of it failed for me.

One big mistake writers make is laziness. Make a girl a book-reader and she's intelligent. That way you don't have to do the work of showing she's intelligent. Make a person work in a bookstore or in this case, for public radio, and you pigeon-hole that person, telling to avoid having to show. I'm not a fan of epistolary or 'dear diary' novels either, but this was one, in effect.

It featured "transcripts" from a national public radio show about transgender people, and worse than this, it split the story between two perspectives, Allison's and Dana's. It didn't commit the final sin of making those perspectives first person, so I have to commend it for that, but really it was too much. The novel staggered along under all this lard, ponderously crawling, and it was stuffed with horsehair (that's the closest I can get without being foul-mouthed).

Judith Ivey's Boston-accented reading voice failed to help as well. It was awful to listen to, and I found myself tuning it out from time to time, and missing the story. After twenty percent, I gave up on it, so based on the short exposure I had, I can't recommend it. Your frequency may differ!


BALLS It Takes Some to Get Some by Chris Edwards


Rating: WARTY!

This is a review of a book for which I was allowed a review copy, for which thank the publisher!

This is the first of a disappointing pair of transgender books I'm reviewing today, both written by guys named Chris! The blurb for this book is as misleading as they get. You can't blame the author (Chris Edwards, not to be confused with author Christopher Edwards) for this because they have nothing to do with their blurb unless they self publish, but I did want to mention it as a point of order, and because it's something out of the author's hands that can seriously and negatively impact the very book the author has written.

The blurb says "At a time when the term transgender didn't exist...Chris Edwards endured 28 surgeries to become the person he always knew he was meant to be." The problem with this is that this book covers the author's experiences in changing gender largely during the nineties and into the early oughts (although it references some time before), whereas the term 'transgender' was coined in 1965, which was, I'm roughly estimating, about five years before the author was born) and was in common use by the seventies. So common had it become by the nineties that in 1992, the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy had codified a definition of it! So no, the blurb is outright wrong here.

I really wanted to like this book because I loved the title. It was when I began reading the first chapter that I began to realize I should not have loved the title so much. I really didn't like the first chapter, but it improved after that, and so I had mixed feelings as I read on. Although it continued quite strongly from there on, it seriously deteriorated the further I read, and by the end, I didn't even want to read the epilogue and that's where I stopped.

For me the book was at it's best when it described the struggle the author went through to get where he needed to go, which was from the fabulously-named Kristin Eskandarian, to the end goal of Chris Edwards. Determined he was and suffer he did, and I suffered with him (after a fashion!) but enjoyed the experience while it lasted. Every fundamentalist who thinks being gay or transgender is a "choice" needs to read books like this to get themselves an education. No one chooses this ostracism, punishment, struggle, emotional overload and physical pain. No one wants it. No one wishes for it, but some must endure it, and amongst those are people who cannot do right by themselves until they have corrected, to the best of their ability, a heartless trick of nature. This author is one of those people.

Religion just pisses me off, frankly, which is why I had a hard time reading, towards the end of the book, this musing: "I always wondered why God made me transgender." This blind belief imposed by society on everyone from birth (well they try) that some magical being has a plan for all of us is delusional. It is also a burden no one should have to endure, because it makes life harder and inexplicable when you have to accommodate a big bearded giant in the sky. It forces questioning statements like this out of people because when you let god in, you let rationality out. I can't prove this, but the evidence is all on my side: no god had anything to do with this. It's just nature, screwing-up. Fortunately, albeit clumsy as yet, science has the power to go a long way towards correcting nature's mistakes of one sort or another. No god can help, and anyone who worships a god who would purposefully do this kind of thing to people is worshiping an evil, capricious god not worthy of human intellect or attention in my opinion.

The early strength of this book was in its unflinching reportage of the physical struggle: the inconvenience at best, and pain and suffering at worst. The weakness of it was that there seemed to be no "emotional content" as Bruce Lee so cutely phrased it in his movie Enter the dragon There needs to be emotional content in a story like this and I wasn't feeling it. And while this is a memoir and so is expected to be about the author, the problem was that it was all about him, with very little time or room for anyone else, least of all other people in his position.

We have mention of family and friends frequently, but they are always bit players and they seem to disappear completely in the latter portion of the book. We never really get a feel for what they went through because the author is so intently focused on what he's going through. This really came to a head (if you'll forgive the unintended pun) in the last few chapters where the focus was not on his life in general, his liberation, what he experienced in general as a man, and and how he felt about everything. Instead of that, which would have been wonderful, the sole focus was on his desperate quest to get laid!

This really soured me on the entire book, and cheapened the experience of reading it considerably. While I was hoping for more of the post-surgery story, all I got was this endless quest to find a female and this is when it really brought it home to me that the author was very much a guy. His story was all about balls, but it was balls in the sense of testosterone, and not in the sense of guts. In short, it was the opposite of what I'd hoped for when I first saw this title.

I'd wanted a before-and-after story and in a sense, there wasn't one because for the author, there was only after. There never was a before because he never was a woman except in the most superficial sense. I get that, I do, but there is still a story there, and I kept getting hints of it here and there which were disappointingly brief: about how he felt and how he was treated when he was perceived as a woman as compared with when he brought out the man who had always been subsumed under a female exterior.

I'd hoped for more of a general story of post-op life along those lines, but all we really got was the op. There was no 'post' other than what I just mentioned, which sadly was all about his new "post" if I can put it that way, and it sounded rather desperate and of an entirely frat-boy mentality, which turned me right off. It was this kind of thing which made me dislike that first chapter, too.

There's a sick genderist joke that a man's brains are in his penis, and this memoir played right into its hands. In fact the author indulges himself in this kind of genderism when he writes, "Luckily the testosterone had yet to override the female part of my brain that has no qualms about asking for directions." Seriously? There were several such Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot statements such as: "I wanted my first time to be with someone I really cared about—who cared about me" which felt so hypocritical coming as it did at the end of bunch of chapters which talked only about getting laid - and with not a single mention of sexual diseases and risks. I found myself wondering, more than once, what happened to the woman? And the answer was always there: there never was a woman, not in any sense in this book! It was always a guy!

That kind of thing would have made more sense had it not come after statements like this one: "He then informed me that if I’m with a woman at a revolving door, the gentlemanly thing to do is to enter first and get it going so she doesn’t have to exert any effort. This guy was a true gentleman in every sense of the word, which is exactly what I intended to be." To me that's sheer sexism. A 'true gentleman' may well be what he was, but he didn't give me that impression having read those last few chapters, where it was all about sex, never about relationships, companionship, building trust, shared interests, or getting to know someone before diving headlong into them. Again, these are things guys are known for doing - and juvenile guys at that. There is no feminine side to this.

That quote harbors another issue, too. Are men and women supposed to be treated equally or not? If we are, then women don't get to have doors opened for them, unless you happen to be going out first, and hold it for the next person coming right behind, but in that case, the gender of either person is irrelevant. It's just the polite thing to do. But equality means precisely that - equal treatment for all. You don't get get to have the car door opened, or for men to stand up when you enter the room, or for you keep your purse closed while the man's wallet is perennially open on your date. Otherwise it's not equality, it's privilege, class, and special treatment which is precisely what the suffragists accused men of. Do we really want to go back to that? More on privilege anon.

It felt very hypocritical reading a statement like that above from someone who is, in this very memoir, talking of equality in the extreme: of the right of those who are gender dysphoric to be allowed to equalize themselves as this author was allowed, and to be allowed to be treated as all other men and women when the surgeries are over. That's what equality means. But as long as you're talking about wanting to be "a true gentleman", then you're missing the point! This is not to say men should be allowed to be dicks and jerks. We can still be polite, considerate, and well-behaved, but this behavior should not be considered the sole preserve of the male gender, especially since (some would argue and upon very solid grounds!) men are not even there yet! There's no reason at all these days why a woman should not open a car door for a guy, or why she should not go down on one knee and propose marriage!

The author's family, which had played an important role in the early chapters, were pretty much banished from the second half of the book. No longer was this thirty-year-old guy traveling with his mom for consultations. Family was out, which frankly felt a bit odd to me. Traveling with family for post op help I could see, but for a consultation? It felt more like fiction than memoir, but in the end it was his choice.

The fictional shadow grew darker when I read a statement like this: "Dr. Laub had made it his mission to travel to underdeveloped countries and provide life-changing plastic surgeries to tens of thousands of people." Now I don't doubt that a surgeon could perform tens of thousands of operations over a long career. But I just did a calculation, and over a career of forty years, starting from age 28 (four years of university, four years of medical school, and two years of residency minimum, would put him at 28), a doctor could perform ten thousand operations if he did five per week, fifty weeks per year.

That's not a heavy load by any means, but remember that what we're talking about here is charitable surgery in third world countries, and he wasn't doing those at the rate of five per week for fifty weeks of the year over forty years. He was doing those on trips away from his regular work. Hundreds I can see, maybe even thousands of such operations, but tens of thousands, all of them life saving? No. Just no! Doing such work is commendable and worthy, but let's be realistic about what he does instead of inflating it. We're not Donald Trump after all. To do otherwise is to do Dr Laud a disservice. If he supervised or worked with teams of surgeons doing these surgeries, then I can see tens of thousands over an extended period. But not one man. In fact, working with teams is what he did if you read about his work. Wikipedia describes it as "tens of thousands of life-altering operations gratis." That sounds more like it and does indeed make him a super-hero in my book!

It was slips like this that made me distrust the author setting himself up as a sort of spokesperson for the gender dysphoric. Quite often throughout this book there were directives like this: "You should never ask someone who is transgender if they have had or plan to have surgery."

I didn't grow up in the US so it's not my nature to ask personal questions of people I just met. I wouldn't advise it whether they're transsexual or anything else. I don't even ask such questions of people I know well unless it's relevant and I know they will not mind. This is why I have to wonder if the author is really talking on behalf of all who share his experience, or if this is just how he feels, and he's projecting it onto everyone else.

I don't trust it. That's not to say I'm advising asking the first transgender person you encounter all manner of personal questions. Far from it! It's just that I don't believe that all transgender people are the same (except in that they're transgender!) I believe they're like everyone else: some won't want to talk about it - perhaps the majority - whereas others might well be inclined to discuss it in appropriate circumstances. This author wrote a book about it for goodness sake!

The point that it's their choice, not mine, yours, or this author's, so do not expect that, just because they've had a "weird surgery" that it's up for grabs in the topics for discussion department. And ask only if you know them well, and know they will be receptive to discussing it. Remember they did not have a choice over which body they were born in, but they do have a choice whether to discuss what they did about it. Respect that choice and leave it with them to make!

There was one more thing which bothered me, and which the author made only one mention of in the entire book, and that was privilege. This memoir reeks of it. These operations cost literally thousands of dollars (I won't go so far as to say tens of thousands of life-saving dollars!), and this guy or his family could afford them. He could afford the best, and could fly across country at the drop of a hat to discuss a procedure with a doctor, and pick out the best surgeon to perform it.

I wouldn't wish what he went through on anyone, and I admire and salute him for having the 'balls' and stamina, and the courage to go after what he wanted, but the fact is that, as badly done-to as he felt from being trapped in the wrong body and having to suffer emotional stress, and humiliation, and painful, prolonged surgeries to get the right body, he did have the money and means, and opportunity to get it done.

He was extremely privileged in that regard, but from the way this was written, I got no sense of gratitude or of appreciation from this book of how lucky he was he was or how grateful he was to have been privileged enough to pursue his dream when scores of others in his position do not have the same access he did. In a just world, everyone would have this access if they needed it, yet he writes as though it's a right (which it ought to be, granted!) he enjoyed without any sense of humility that he had this access when scores of others are denied it.

It felt rather selfish and was exemplified in this comment late in the book: "After all I do for everyone else, nobody was helping me." This was after his family had paid for surgeries and accompanied him left, right, and center, and his friends had been amazingly and commendably supportive, and he has a great network of people rooting for him, and he's had the opportunity to get precisely what he wanted in life, and now he's discussing getting laid and this is his comment? As much as I wanted to like and commend a book like this, this is not the one I find I can in good faith, lend my support to. I'm sorry and I wish the author all the best in his new life, but I cannot recommend this account of it.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Bad Machinery the Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this review is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Bad Machinery is exactly what it says! It's totally bad-ass and hugely hilarious. But let's not confuse the case of team spirit with a case of liquor! These kids are only middle grade after all. This book, one of a series, is set in a Grammar school in England, and it's a locale with which I am intimately familiar having attended one myself. The story is set in Yorkshire, where my parents were born and raised, and I grew up next door, in Derbyshire. Non-Brits may need some remedial assistance on the lingo, but most of it isn't hard to understand. The graphic novel is evidently composed of webcomic dailies.

I adored this story. Every one of the characters is one I wish I had known at my own school, but alas and a lack of them was what plagued me there. Charlotte Grote, Jack Finch, Linton Baxter, Mildred Haversham, Shauna Wickle, and Sonny Craven are the weird, whacky, and charming students dealing with assorted life crises in their own peculiar ways. Sometimes their agendas conflict and other times they align.

The big deal is that a Russian owner of the local soccer club is trying to demolish houses to build a new stadium in their place, but this Russky seems to have pissed-off the mother of all bad luck, as becomes apparent when a satellite crashes onto the football pitch in the middle of a game, and assorted other disasters befall him. Plus Mrs Biscuits is also Russian, but not interested in rushing anywhere. She refuses to move from her home which sits, of course, right in the way of the Russian's plans to raze the land and raise a stadium. Two of the girls decide to make her the subject of a school project.

Each character has their own cross to bear. Shauna's, for example, is her slightly dysfunctional younger brother whose favorite non-word is BORB. Linton is plagued by his overly attentive mother and his fear that the beautiful new soccer stadium may never materialize. Sonny's father misses his own brutal grammar school days which appear to have been the inspiration for Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns, specifically the episode titled Tomkinson's Schooldays. Jack suffers an older sister who attends the same school and dispenses remarkable advice like, "It's a good idea to shave off your eyebrows" and "be sure to wear eye-shadow for gym." I fell in love with Charlotte though, disgusting as that is, since I'm old enough to be her father, but her sense of humor completely slayed me. She is the queen of bizarre observations and off-the-wall comments such as when she wants to discuss the procedure for extracting mothballs from moths.

The story meanders delightfully and abstrusely towards a satisfying conclusion. The art isn't spectacular, but it's serviceable and it got the job done for me. I haven't read any others in this series, but I fully intend to correct that oversight, first chance I get!


Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Candidate by Lis Wiehl, Sebastian Stuart


Rating: WARTY!

Please note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The Kindle app version was pretty crappy in terms of formatting both on my iPad and on my phone. Clearly it was a rushed job, and I hope that it will be fixed before the published version is released. There seems to have been some fancy capitalization of the first few words of each chapter which is never a good idea, not even in the print version, and this didn't translate well, plus several chapter numbers were missing (chapters 46, 47, and 48 for example). I know people complain about the Smashwords's meat-grinder process, but the kind of sloppiness in evidence here is the very reason Smashwords is so anal about ebook formatting!

The blurb for this book (and this one isn't alone in this) is laughable: "With each death, her foreboding grows. Is she next? And can she find out in time if the country's beloved candidate is what he seems...?" Well yes, of course she can, otherwise why are we reading about her instead of about the person who can achieve these goals? Big Publishing™! LOL! Do they really think their readers are so gullible and clueless? I hope not, but if not why let their blurb writers get away with unoriginal and tedious blurbs like this?

This is why I self-publish, but the blurb, like the cover itself, has nothing to do with the author, so it doesn't factor into my review (other than to mention it here). The problems with this book are not the blurb or even the endless gushing recommendations for other books contained in the beginning (like I care!), but the story itself which is so implausible as to be worthy of a parody.

This is evidently book 2 in the Newsmakers series, which I did not realize when I chose it for review. With rare exceptions, I'm not a fan of series and I certainly have no intention of pursuing this one. It just doesn't spark any enduring interest in me and the main character isn't very engrossing, or realistic. Nether does she make me care what happens to her. Note also in passing that there are other books with this same title, such as The Candidate by Josie Brown, by Samuel L. Popkin, by Tracey Richardson, The Candidates by Bette Browne, and so on. A different title would have been a wiser choice.

This book manages to feel rather like it's written in first person voice, which is far from my favorite. It actually isn't in that voice, but it's written in present tense, which I think contributes to the feeling. It's worth noting from a writer's perspective: immediacy without first person! Who knew? I hope YA authors are paying attention! Anyway, to give you a taste, I'm writing my review in the same voice. So I'm reading, for example, "She drives south on the New York State Thruway and then exits and heads west to the village of Woodstock," instead of something like, "She drove south on the New York State Thruway and exited at Woodstock." It felt weird, and reminded me often that I was reading a novel, preventing me from full immersion in the story.

Other than that - which strikes me as odd - the writing itself is technically not bad in terms of grammar and spelling - once I got by this clunker, that is: "chemistry that sparks." No, electricity sparks, not chemistry! The story moves fairly quickly, but at times I feel like it's so improbable that I don't see how it moves at all. For example, the central theme of this book, as is apparent long before main character Erika Sparks starts putting two and two together, is mind control, but the source of this isn't from modern studies and techniques, but from an antique Chinese philosophical treatise. More on this anon. This strikes me as a poor plot device.

Worse than this though, is that I find it hard to believe that a reporter of Erika Sparks's purported stature and insight isn't onto this long before she actually starts thinking about it. It makes no sense either that she is the only one who notices it. The whole thing is presaged by information we get early (and on more than one occasion) that one of the candidates for the upcoming presidential election was a prisoner of Al Qaeda in Iraq for several months and managed to miraculously "escape". Perhaps if she had no meandered through far too much distraction, none of which contributed to the story, and all-too-often bogged it down, she would have got there faster?

This makes me suspicious of 'The Candidate' from the off. The real mystery here is why no one else is, especially since it's exactly the same plot device that's employed in the first season of the Homeland TV show which I quit watching after I realized that every season is the same as last, with a twist or two and a character change. This book doesn't follow that show exactly, but it's the very same idea. It feels very tired, and there's far too much telling and nowhere near enough showing.

I have to disagree with Erika over her medical knowledge. She's a bit too casual - or the writing describing her behavior is. If you're considering applying a tourniquet, then you need to be fully aware that you're simultaneously considering sacrificing the limb below the tourniquet. It's important therefore to try and save as much of the limb as you reasonably can, and include the joint if you can. If you can't, you can't, but to have her blindly apply the tourniquet above the joint without telling us something along the lines of "this was the wisest decision" is misleading, and it makes her look inept or ignorant. That's not a good look for a news reporter!

That Erika is rather slow in the mental acuity department is one of the saddest things about her. She's also a very weak character until the great escape at the end of the book, which is what makes me quit reading in disgust at 92%, because it's completely ludicrous, and utterly unbelievable. Additionally, she's easily manipulated and rather vapid - in short, not the kind of woman I look up to or want to read about. She presents herself far more as a "desperate housewife" than ever she does as an award-winning and popular news reporter.

One example (of many) of her dependency on others is when she responds to Josh, her pointless and brief love interest, showing up to take her out: "It must be Josh. Who is exactly the person she needs right now to pull her out of this dark mood. Well, Erika soon gets shot of this guy that she feels is so important at this point in the story! Caprice much?!

I get that having a friend stop by gives a person a good feeling, and that wouldn't have been so bad had it not been accompanied by everything else, but as it is, it's merely one more example of yet another female character needing to be validated by a guy or rescued by him like she's some maiden tied-up in front of a dragon, needing St George to gallop in and save her. Worse than this, there's YA-style triangle, or at least the makings of one, which is not only totally unnecessary - the story would have been better without any romantic entanglements - but which serves only to make her look like she's at best, a ditz and at worse, callous.

On that score, this book hosts what is an ongoing problem with obsession with women's looks. In some ways I can see a male author zeroing in on this (not that that makes it justifiable), but what disturbs me is that so many female authors do the same thing. I read on one page after another: "She's a reasonably attractive young redhead in her early twenties," and "By the way, you're much prettier in person," and "thunderstruck by the singer's beauty," and "His wife, Margaret, is an attractive woman in her forties," and "Claire is a raven-haired, Stanford-bred beauty."

My question here is what does any this have to do with the story? There's no comparable description of the men like this. If there had been, it would at least not have been so biased, but it would still have been guilty of reducing someone's entire worth to their looks alone. These people are not models. If the novel is about runway models or female actors, it would have offered some grounds to address their looks, but this novel isn't about any such topic, and it was nauseating to read all this.

So why does this author put so much stock in women's looks? Is it because she thinks this is all women have to offer? Is it because she believes that men have so much more to offer? Or is it because she's simply selling-out to people who think this is how women ought to be portrayed in novels? Frankly it's despicable, and I think it's shameful for anyone - and for a female author in particular - to bring women down to this shallow depth of skin. This is the main reason why I'm rating this negatively. Women deserve better. It's not the only reason, by any means as we shall see.

One of those quotes about beauty is what a guy says to Erika ("By the way, you're much prettier in person"). This by itself isn't a problem, because this is how some people think and worse, how they behave. The problem in that particular case is that this is spoken by Erika's new love interest before he's anything more than a new acquaintance, and she never calls him on it. Instead she actually basks in it.

This obsession with skin-depth evidently extends throughout the series. When I go back and look at the blurb for the first book I read this: "Beautiful, talented, and ambitious, Erica grew up dirt poor..." Again with the beauty. And note that the beauty precedes all her other "qualities" because it's quite obviously the most important! You can argue that this is in the blurb, and therefore has nothing to do with the author, but clearly the author has the same idea judged by what's in this book.

Erika is investigating one of the two candidates for the presidency, and she's growing ever more suspicious of him. Well into the novel, I discover that she's begun reading a memoir he wrote about his time as a prisoner in Iraq. Wait, what? She's been covering this guy for many months, and she's only just now, reading his memoir? Worse than this, she visits Iraq to follow-up on his story - and she's the first reporter to do this? No, that's simply not credible. Nor is this: "inhaling a plate of eggs and sausage and potatoes." I hope that's beef or turkey sausage because you can't get pork sausage in the Middle East - not in a hotel anyway! It's against Muslim dietary laws.

Another fail was the number of things which are launched with great fanfare in this novel only to sink out of sight faster than the Titanic (unless they all feature prominently in the last eight percent!). Erika has her teenage daughter with her. This kid serves no purpose whatsoever other than to lard-up the story. Erika had fought for custody, we're told, even though her daughter is her last priority. Erika is a bad parent, period. She spends no time with the kid, and this is raised as a point of contention, but it's never pursued. On the other hand her daughter is unnaturally clingy and juvenile for her age, so perhaps Erika has a point. LOL! The real point here though, is why include the kid in the story? She serves no purpose other than to be an annoying distraction.

On top of this is the ongoing nonsense with Erika's fiancé, who never actually appears in this story, but is dealt with through constant references and an occasional phone call. Again, I saw no reason to have him in this story at all. At one point Erika gets pissed-off with him and starts dating guy number two (at least that's how he's treated!). She leads him on and then summarily ditches him, which again serves no purpose other than to offer one more reason to detest Erika - and I need no more reasons at this point.

Another issue is this ancient book of philosophy which seems to be such a crucial topic at one point in the book and then it disappears from the story entirely. We're presented with these purportedly ruthless and obsessed villains who are assassinating anyone who gets in their way, yet when this "critical" book appears, and a guy starts translating it, the two of them ignore it completely! There's no theft of the book and no assassination. There's no interest in it whatsoever.

The villains are a joke, BTW. They're more like naughty, immature, high school bullies than ever they fit the role of evil behind-the-scenes manipulators. It was as sad as it was pathetic, and the ending (at least the part I read before I quit in disgust) is just not credible. This is a woman who has been held in captivity for a week tied to a chair. She's been constantly blindfolded, injected with god knows what, sensory-deprived, (and all this after coming back from two touristy days in Iraq with PTSD?), yet she plots her escape and executes it flawlessly and ruthlessly, taking out two guys on the way despite being shot in the leg? I'm sorry, but this is when I quit. It was absurd and completely implausible. I wish the authors all the best with their careers, but I cannot recommend a book that feels like I'm reading poor fan fiction.